Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Hastings’ first Pacific councillor returns to the heart of his community

Peleti Oli-Alainu’uese, with his son, Jesiah. Forefront photo: RNZ/ Anusha Bradley. Background: My Planet Experience.
Avatar photo
Local Democracy Reporting | Free Public Interest News Service

By Justin Latif of Local Democracy Reporting

Peleti Oli-Alainu’uese may have left local politics, but that doesn’t mean he’s stop advocating for his community of Flaxmere and the wider Pacific population within the Hawke’s Bay. 

Almost a year after resigning as the first Pacific Hastings councillor, Peleti Oli-Alainu’uese has returned back to working in the community he loves.

A Flaxmere local, Oli-Alainu’uese came to prominence in a documentary about his unique outreach to support youth in his area, fuelled by the loss of his brother to suicide. He set up a barbershop that offered more than trims and fades, establishing a haven where clients from all walks of life knew they would be seen and heard, without judgement.

“The loss of my brother … that’s where the passion came from, to try and reach out to youth.”

The barber chair became a safe space to help empower men to tackle issues such as domestic violence as well as address their own mental wellbeing.

When Pacific Media News spoke with the former councillor he had just finished boxing training with the eldest of his four children and the pair were on their way home.

“There’s another ex-councillor who trains there as well, we usually catch up afterwards but my wife Jonique got me to pick up dinner so I’d come straight home,” he laughs.

Peleti Oli-Alainu’uese (far right) was one of the five departing councillors of the Hastings District Council last year. Photo: Retrieved from Inside Government NZ.

Despite his meteoric rise to becoming politician, he took the brave step of returning to work directly with his community, crediting his fashion designer wife Jonique Oli-Alainu’uese of clothing label Waiapu Road as his guiding force.

“I really wanted to come back into the community, get my finger nails dirty. Jonique’s the reason I’ve been able to turn my life around … I’m blessed.”

He described his single term in council as a huge learning curve, getting up close with the machinery of local government and more importantly understanding the power of a political voice.

“I rubbed shoulders with a lot of people I wouldn’t normally be around. It was also great learning about processes and the importance of having a voice and voting.”

Stepping into his role as politician involved a major adjustment and it’s been the same experience coming back into the fold of the community.

He sold the barbershop business and set up a mobile service to continue seeing his clients. Instead of sitting in council and committee meetings, part of his week now involves working with youth at an alternative education organisation.

(L-R) Peleti Oli-Alainu’uese with ‘Fitz’ at the twosevenfive barbershop in Māngere. Photo: Retrieved from The Spinoff.

There’s also a new pilot role at the Hawke’s Bay Regional prison allowing direct contact with Pacific inmates from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

“There’s a huge need for Pasifika services, especially for those from Tāmaki, it sits between the probation officer and case manager.”

Oli-Alainu’uese says it’s important for men lacking regular family contact to have cultural connection.

He adds this is also the case with Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) workers in the Hawke’s Bay region who continue to experience difficulties made worse by Cyclone Gabrielle earlier this year. 

“They are charged them horrendous amounts on rent and other stuff, they hardly have anything to send back to the islands. There’s a lot of mistreatment … the language barrier is hard, also raising any issues they come up against … there’s the threat of being repatriated back to their country … they feel stuck.”

Oli-Alainu’uese says the establishment of an auditor to regularly assess work sites would go a long way to address these issues. Another issue is how unsafe many workers feel. 

“Back in the islands its normal walking long distances to get to town but [here] there are reports of some men who’ve been on their own, getting attacked.

“They’re vulnerable when they walk alone, need to help raise their awareness. Maybe purchase a bike, or get your driver’s license. I’d encourage orchard owners to help move workers around safely on their days off.”

Local democracy reporting

Stay Connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive daily updates direct to your inbox!

*we hate spam as much as you do